Concentration on Core Competence

22.07.2015 —

Professor Thomzik. Last year, you presented the new edition of your study of the FM sector. What are the three most important conclusions? 

Firstly, our results demonstrate that the FM sector, with a gross added of 130 billion Euros which represents 5.42 percent of gross domestic product, is a significant contributor to the German economy. In 2010 it was 112 billion and 5.03 percent. Secondly, the sector is growing at an annual rate of 4 percent. Its stability and resistance to crises makes it a key sector in Germany. And last but not least: the proportion of jobs in the sector is set to grow at above average rates. Almost 11 percent of the working population are employed in facility management compared to 10 percent in 2010.

What image does the sector convey? 

Facility management is considered an established sector but is often underestimated. The dilemma: the sector has such a wide scope and is made up of so many small components that its economic significance is often overlooked by politics, the press and the public. Due to the large proportion of 400 Euro jobs, the sector is not perceived as “sexy” and its export record to date is not strong compared to the traditional stars of the German economy. There is development potential for shaping the sector’s image and making it more distinctive.

The core business of facility management is to relieve the client by taking on secondary functions. What tasks do you see the sector facing in the coming years? 

I could give the usual answers: sustainability, Building Information Modeling (BIM), operator responsibility, globalization etc. As I see it, it is the task of companies to develop innovative concepts for service controlling. Outsourcing is neither a remedy for all ills nor a matter of course. FM providers must customize supporting processing to answer the requirements of the client’s primary activities with even more precision. Next, there must be bilateral cooperation on substantiating the strategic relevance of FM and the real extent of its added value by means of meaningful KPIs. This might enable us at last to throw off the cost-driven (unappreciative) approach to FM. The issues involved in personnel recruitment are underestimated and it is imperative that the tasks involved be made more attractive. Who, as a well-trained engineer, wants to take on responsibility for the largely ignored secondary processes in the broom cupboard when the alternative is receiving accolade for the development of cars which steal the spotlight as they leave the production line? It is generally considered that the service providers have a simpler task when it comes to offering opportunities for young specialists and managers but they need to do their homework. It is important to take advantage of new paths such as integrated studies which enable employers to approach new target groups for FM.

What do Facility Management providers need to do to fulfill requirements?

There is a real need to focus on quality improvement at the client interface. The much-cited DIN ISO 9000 is often “only” a formal condition of admission to the tender process without the intention or real ability to drive the originally intended improvement process. Find solutions for client issues of tomorrow instead of engaging in misdirected industriousness. Our analyses indicate that there is also huge potential in internal processes; potential which has long been harnessed in many operations other than FM: the avoidance of waste in (internal) processes. The question of which (components of) facility service processes really create added value should be posed more frequently in day-to-day operations. And something else: aspects of work which have already been identified as unproductive often remain uncorrected. “Creating value without unnecessary waste”. What could be a better motto for business operations at the present time when careless use of scarce resources is so common? It is a strategy to earn (more) money despite the “Lamenti” about negative price developments.

In the past, technical, infrastructural and administrative facility services were often offered and contracted separately. There is now a growing trend towards integrated services and so-called system services. 

To be honest, I have no strong opinion about the organizational approach to and the title of services. It is all about intelligent integration of secondary processes with the object of increasing (internal) client benefit. And I advise all of those involved who have specialist skills and knowledge: It is not what is expected but what can be realistically developed that will lead to future success.

You carry out research and consulting in innovation management. What are your recommendations to companies with FM needs? 

In our industry, we can expect step-by-step improvements in the status quo with occasional radical changes. At the moment, it is trendy to apply the term innovation. Consultants as well as managers, editors, association representatives and organizers of specialist congresses and meetings evoke innovation as a guarantee for further progress in our industry. Innovation – whatever that means – is mandatory. Even facility service providers with a proven track record in a traditional field are under pressure to conform. But when “real” innovation is under discussion, providers’ commitment to change yields to anxiety about maintaining their market position; it becomes clear that existing structures and processes need to be questioned, long accustomed privileges will be threatened and that areas which are familiar and comfortably established are likely to change.

Sometimes there is just no room in day-to-day operation for creative thought. 

That’s true. Under the pressures of downsizing and outsourcing, companies run the risk of maneuvering themselves into a position of extreme efficiency but of total incapacity for inno-vation. The routine weight-loss regime may lead to anorexia with respect to innovation. Those in the FM sector who concentrate solely on price competition and thereby fail to take part in the race for innovation will not be successful in the long run. Many companies turn to consultants, trend studies and benchmarking projects in the quest for solutions and the hope of standard recipes for innovation. As a result, all are using identical data and therefore subject to the same winds of fashions. Instead of leading to innovation leadership, competition is intensified; there are no real differences between competitors. Everyone would be well advised to seek their own orientation and establish development strategies which are in line with current or potential skills and know-how of the company.

At the Westfälische College, you train future facility managers. What are the most important things that you teach your students? 

Take the, hopefully, sound basis of your training or studies and start applying it in practice through internships and student jobs as soon as possible. To be competent, experience must go hand-in-hand with knowledge. You can’t learn to swim in the classroom, you need water. On top of competence or ability, the willingness to act is also important. Self-motivation is necessary to be successful in the FM sector. And finally, in the longterm, even the best-qualified manager will not be able to make a contribution in an FM company without health. Ensure your employability. The company plays a role too here but it is your own health habits and lifestyle that are decisive.

Thank you for your time

Michaela Mehls

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